We Are Our Parents’ Children: Fear and Family Traits

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[image credit: Lucasfilm, Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989]

I have a slight fear of heights.  While far from being my only insecurity, it stands out further than the others by virtue of its mysteriousness.  In addition to being an apprehension that has been with me for as long as I can remember, it stems from a depth of my being that I have yet to fully comprehend.  This is to say that when I try to fathom from where this fear originates I cannot find it amidst my childhood memories.  Instead, there are only moments I can recall in which my disdain for heights is already an ingrained part of my personality.  I should explain that I am not completely acrophobic.  I can look out the window of airplanes or ascend to the top floor of skyscrapers with no problem.  I have flown countless times, including across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and have enjoyed the view from the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower.  However, if, say, I were to attempt standing on the edge of a cliff without any support, such as a guardrail, I would suddenly feel a rush of adrenaline that would make me feel unbalanced and compel me to retreat to safer ground.  This is how it has always been with me.  So, when I have stopped to reflect on my predisposition, as I have stated, it is nowhere to be found among my youthful experiences.  I have never accidentally fallen from a tree or rooftop, nor have I ever been threatened with being thrown from a dangerous elevation.  At one point, though, when no other explanation availed itself to me, I concluded that I must have perished in my previous life as a result of plummeting to my death, and somehow that memory was encoded into my genes upon my rebirth into this life.  More recently, however, my wife and I were having dinner with a friend who spoke with me about historical trauma.  We spoke of these things, not because I had told my friend about my fear of heights, but because of our common interest in American Indian history, which is replete with episodes of historical trauma.  “The trauma can get into your blood,” my friend said, “and be passed onto your children.”  My friend illustrated his point with examples of traumatic episodes with which he was personally familiar from his work in behavioral health.  The trauma becomes intergenerational at two levels: first, when the traumatized parent raises their children in a household in which the parent is living with the effects of their trauma; second, when the traumatic effects are passed onto their children like a genetic trait.  It was the second point that my friend referred to euphemistically as “getting into your blood.”  “Even modern doctors check your blood for signs of health and disease.”  If this is true, then what was my inherited trauma?  In the case of my fear of heights, I now believe that I got it from my dad.  During 1950 as the Korean War broke out and American troops were deployed overseas, my dad became a member of the first detachment of Army Rangers sent behind enemy lines.  In fact, my dad distinguished himself as a platoon leader, the stories of which were an important part of my childhood.  Yet, despite how proud my dad was of his military service, which included parachuting into enemy territory, he never rode in an airplane again after he was discharged.  As I grew and matured I eventually learned about post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to learning from my mom that my dad was going through a very dark time when they met in the late 50s, and how she was the only one to whom he opened up about his wartime experiences.  So, the way I see things now is that my dad must have been so traumatized by his experience as a combat paratrooper that he passed some of that trauma to me.  It was in my blood from birth.  My fear of heights, especially when there is nothing to hold onto, is my dad’s fear of dying as he was jumping from the back of a C-82.  My dad was my hero.  He still is.  He is also the reason I am the way that I am.

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The Land Between Here and There: Picacho Peak and the Story of the West

The Land Between Here and There: Picacho Peak and the Story of the West

[photo credit: David Martínez]

For anyone driving along the I-10 Freeway, Picacho Peak rises out of the horizon like the dorsal fin of a great sea creature amidst the sea of desert that expands between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. Once a part of the Gila River Pima and Tohono O’odham homelands, today it is under the care of the Arizona State Park System. As a tourist destination it draws thousands every year because of the magnificent but short-lived desert wild flowers that blossom along its slopes. Also, hundreds camp around the foot of the mountain for an annual reenactment of one of the most insignificant Civil War battles of the entire Union-Confederate conflict, otherwise known by the more honorable name of the “Battle of Picacho Pass.” At the time, in 1862, Picacho Peak was largely under control of the Indigenous communities, named above, that had inhabited the area for countless generations. They were witness to the skirmish that took place between the blue and the gray soldiers, which they preserved in their oral history. According to Frank Russell, a Harvard-trained ethnographer, who did fieldwork among the Gila River Pima at the turn of the twentieth century, a tribal historian recorded the event on a “history or calendar stick,” which is a long saguaro cactus stick into which symbols are carved, enabling an oral historian to remember the sequence of events relevant to the community in which the oos:hikbina is kept. At one time there were as many history sticks as there were Pima villages. As for the one that recorded the Battle at Picacho Pass, it stated simply: “The soldiers from the west fought the soldiers from the east and were defeated.” Obviously, this battle did not mean much to the Indigenous people. It was not their fight. It was not their war. In the spirit then of those Pima who witnessed the soldiers from east and west fight each other, I too remained aloof from the modern day reenactment that was underway the weekend I visited Picacho Peak. Instead, I was there to respect the power and beauty of this place, which in my mind is still integral to an ancient homeland. The photo posted here is my way of paying homage to this land. Indeed, if you click through to the attached photo set, you will get to see what I saw on that beautifully cloudy day. You may also get to see my wife Sharon in a handful of images.